A recent television program named “Hitler:The Opportunist” revealed some startling new information, which was apparently derived from “recently discovered documents.” At least the show featured, on the AHC (American Heroes Channel), talks about recently discovered documents quite a bit, but at times it is unclear what is recently discovered and what has been known about for years.
I have watched this episode several times now, using cable on demand, and I have started to notice that in minute 44 of the program, it tells about when Hitler got out of jail in 1924 and the Bavarian government took away his “Trump card”.
At first, I thought they were going to say that they had recently gone back into the Bavarian government records, from that period, and had rediscovered this amazing card. I still don’t know if they actually found the original card; the show is a little ambiguous. They might mean that his trump card was his public speaking ability.
Thomas Weber, one of the commentators in the show, makes a very good point about Hitler’s experience at the start of World War One. He said I believe, “they were utterly unprepared for it.” He is very right about this. One statistic that the show gave a little ambiguously was that “Hitler’s unit lost more than 2,000 men.” Close, but more correctly Hitler’s Regiment, which started the war with 3,600 men, was down to 611 after only 20 days. His company, of which a Regiment has many, which started with 250 men was down to 43 in the same time period. Their Oberst, or in English, the Coronal who was leading Hitler’s Regiment was also killed.
Very early in the war, in this same time period, Hitler was promoted to the rank of Gefreiter and assigned to be a message runner. I have been thinking of late about just how backward the military thinking had been at the start of WW One. I am trying to understand what the German word Gefreiter means. If we try to understand it, by looking further back to the time before WW One, we may gain some insights. I have written about the German word Gefreiter in a previous blog post that I recently updated.
Google translate, which is perhaps the ultimate arbiter of truth, renders the word Gefreiter as “Freed”. Those of you who are familiar with the slogan, “Arbiet Mact Frei”, or “work will make you free” which appeared on or above the concentration camp gates, will recognize that Frei and Gefreiter are based on the same root word.
My son suggested that it might help some of our younger readers to understand more about the rank of Gefreiter, using this approach of understanding its meaning, by looking backwards in time. My son thinks that a famous example of being promoted from a lower rank to the rank of Gefreiter takes place in dramatic fashion in episode 24 of the HBO hit “Game of Thrones”. (Season 3 episode 4). He suggested that this might shine some light onto a few relevant concepts for some of our younger readers who are familuar with this show.
Spoiler alert, if you have not seen this TV show, you might want to watch it before you read the rest of this blog post. It is one of the best ones in the whole show.
At the very end of this episode the “mother of dragons” buys an army of 8,000 slaves called “the unsullied”. She trades them for one of her dragons. She hands the slave trader one end of a chain with the other end attached to the small dragon’s leg. He hands her a symbolic whip. She asks him, “its done then, they are mine?” He answers “you hold the whip.”
She calls out the name “unsullied” in perfect “High Valerian”. For those who are experts in Game of Thrones, there are claims that this is the first instance of the use of “High Valerian” in the show. The slaver only speaks a lower uncouth dialect of the language. Her new solders snap to attention in perfect unison.
Her first order to the unsullied is to march forward. They march forward in perfect lock step. Her second order is to halt. They halt in perfect lock step. Then her third order, which I think looses something in the translation from high Valerian in the subtitles, is to strike off your chains, kill the solders, kill everyone who holds a whip, but harm no child. They wipe out their old masters in short order.
After the battle, she climbs up on her white horse, and gives a speech. She immediately promotes them from the rank of slave to the rank of freedmen, and then asks them, “will you fight for me as free men?” In an older sense of this word, each one of them, if they had accepted, would have become a Gefreiter.
I have always thought that there is something very “old German” about the mother of dragons. “High Valerian” reminds me a little bit of “Hoch Deutch” sometimes translated as High German, which was the language of Prussian noblemen.
The “unsullied” have always reminded me of the Hessians, who were German solders, that fought in the American Revolution, on the side of the British. The Hessian soldiers, somewhat like the unsullied, were not free, but rather they were serfs. Serfs, like slaves, are pretty much owned by the Aristocratic Noble class of Lords. Like slaves, serfs can’t leave the land, or run off of the plantation, so to speak. The helmets of the unsullied ,to me, are reminiscent of the German Stahlhelm.
Unlike a plantation owner, a landlord in feudal Europe could not sell his serfs, unless he sold his land with them. The serfs were bound to the land. That not withstanding, the Hessian aristocrats saw fit to train their serfs to be expert solders and rent them out in fully equipped army units complete with their own officers. Fredric the Great, the Prussian ruler at that time, decried the practice as selling German blood.
You can read more than you ever wanted to know about the Hessian solders in the America revolutionary war here.
My favorite part, in the old book above, was the attitude of these German Hessian serfs, when they were taken prisoner. Back in Germany, a lord’s serfs had to work on his owner’s lands, but they were also given a little bit of their own land, on which they could work and grow their own food. The serfs worked part of the time for their masters and part of the time for themselves.
When these German peasants were taken prisoner, they thought that they should have to spend part of their time each week in the POW barracks, to fulfill their obligation to their Lord, but that they should be able to go out and work as farm workers the rest of the week. Remarkably, not only their own officers but the American colonists who were short of manpower, often agreed to this.
In doing some research on Hessian Gefreiters, I found some interesting comments from people doing genealogy work from the revolutionary war period. The researchers explained that, in your own research, you might run across the German word Gefreiter.
The researchers explained that the word could be translated as equivalent to the rank of Lance Corporal in the British army. But then, they added something very interesting: They claimed that the word Lance, in Lance Corporal, had the same roots as the lance in freelance. I looked it up and sure enough the a historical definition of freelance was a medieval mercenary.
But getting back to Hitler, what had he been “Freed” from exactly?
In the TV show Game of Thrones many of the characters are what are refereed to as High Born. The key thing is that, to be “High Born”, you have to be born that way. It is a hereditary status. In the past, the Germany nobility got their status as a birth right. In order to be an officer, it was required to have been a member of the nobility. To be “High Born” so to speak. To have the word “von” in your last name.
In American, we use the words “upper, middle and lower class,” but in the old feudal system everybody today would have been considered to be a member of the old feudal middle class.
In America today we have no hereditary royalty; we have no hereditary serfs, and since 1865, no hereditary slaves. In a sense we believe that “all men are created equal”.
It is a misconception to believe that in later feudal times, that the Royal class were always rich. In reality, they were very often flat broke and had to borrow money from the “middle class” which included everyone who was not a nobleman or a peasant.
An example, in Game of Thrones show, of rich members of the middle class would be the filthy rich bankers from the Iron Bank of Braavos. The feudal middle class also included priests, merchants, and skilled craftsmen.
In Bavaria, in 1914, they still had a very autonomous king: “The king of Bavaria”. Bavaria was a kingdom, but also part of the German Empire. Bavaria had been a kingdom, since 1806. Bavaria had its own department of defense. Like Hesse, from where the Hessian solders came, it had its own army. Bavaria had its own dialect of German, which was called Bairisch. When I lived in Germany for 20 months, when my husband was in the American Army, I learned to speak Bairisch. When I came back to America, I took a college course in German, to learn to speak properly.
Serfdom had been abolished by 1806 in Bavaria, but the more I think about how they fed their troops into machine guns at the start of World War One, it makes me think that their Aristocratic officers, thought of their men as more like medieval serfs.
Were Hitler’s officer’s minds, in some ways, still stuck back in the middle ages? In their aristocratic minds, could Hitler’s officers have been thinking that they were giving Hitler a promotion, reminiscent of that from a lowborn serf, up to middle class freedmen, when they promoted him to Gefreiter?